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Fort Bottom Ruin, UT
mini location map2017-10-12
25 by photographer avatarAZWanderingBear
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Fort Bottom Ruin, UT 
Fort Bottom Ruin, UT
Hiking avatar Oct 12 2017
Hiking4.20 Miles 600 AEG
Hiking4.20 Miles
600 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
Day 9 of a 14 day SE Utah trip found me on the backside of the White Rim Road. For 2 days I'd been bumping along the old road created in the late 40s, early 50s to explore for uranium in what is now Canyonlands National Park. The small deposits of uranium never got mined, but the road has become a favorite for folks who like to vehicularly explore difficult places. The climb up Hardscabble Hogback had been a 4-Lo, 3 mph creep with the driver side tires seldom more than 12 inches from crumbling edges with sheer drops of sometimes 400 feet, the passenger mirror barely scraping past the rock wall of the shelf road. House sized boulders hung tenuously above the road, deciding when, not if, they were to plunge down across the road and to the valley below. Rock slide closures of the White Rim are common. No room for passing, backing down an endeavor that would take hours. Thankfully I hadn't met anyone on the road during that.

The pullout for the Fort Bottom trail, at the top of the hogback, can hold several vehicles but it was empty. My planned camp for the night was in sight below me to the north, but it was still several driving miles away.

I gathered my pack and cameras and took to the well worn trail. It isn't that the trail gets much traffic, but there is nothing to erase the footprints and wear but slight rain and the wind. The trail initially cuts the south side of a small butte, the Green River below on your left, the south side of the gooseneck that forms the peninsula the trail traverses. The trail cuts back north along the western foot of the butte and then swithbacks down through red sandstone to a lower layer of soft gray shale before turning west again. The shale narrows, steep slopes to each side for a few hundred feet before leading you to a very narrow path on red sandstone with sheer drops to each side. I labeled the two as the gray bridge and the red bridge.

Ahead looms another steep sided butte, perhaps 150 feet above the surrounding rock. A dark shape on top will catch your eye. It looks like a fort but it is a ruin and one of the two primary objectives of the hike. The trail slides long the northern edge of the butte with the ruin atop before coming to a T intersection. Left leads towards the butte and ruin and right leads towards the abandoned cabin you've seen by now. I went left first.

The caprock of the butte looks formidable, but the trail winds around to a small break on the western side. It is still a scramble, maybe 8 feet of working along the little chute to the top. The ruin, Ancestral Puebloan, probably 750 years old, is essentially two mostly circular rooms. The entrance is on the south side into the lower of the rooms. Some modern reinforcement in the way of cement mortaring has occurred at the entrance. A low door leads into the taller tower. Remnants of cottonwood logs in the walls nearly head high suggest there was a second room above. The walls are uniformly gray, dark, uninviting, made of the silt stone that is present in abundance on the butte, chinked with smaller stones, the mortar long ago washed away. No evidence of smoke in the structure makes me think it was for storage, not for living in, perhaps a defensible location, and possibly part of a communication network. It would have line of sight with other known ancient sites along the Green.

Sherds were everywhere, mostly gray corrugated pieces. Squatting and looking at some I noticed a color, a tiny tomato red piece of chert, flaked, and then I saw more and more. This was jasper, an extrusion found between layers of sandstone throughout the Canyonlands. Hundreds of years ago someone sat here, perhaps in the shade of a cottonwood shelter, using a hammer stone and had fractured a chunk of jasper and then carefully used an antler tip to pressure flake a tool or an arrow point. His work space now my location for speculation.

Who ever flaked the jasper I now gently held between 2 fingertips had largely the same view from the top of the butte as I now had. The Green along three sides swinging west and then south and then east before pushing again south to its rendezvous with the Colorado a few miles away. There was likely a small village below on the delta where now the cabin ruins sat, fields of corn, seasonal shelters made of the cottonwoods that dominated the river bank, no tamarisk to crowd them out. Hundreds of years later John Wesley Powell would take his little boats past here. Had he stopped? Did they camp here? Climb this little butte? Look at the stone structure? Wonder and then continue their journey like I would? I need to reread his book.

I placed the flake as found and shouldered the pack to work back down the trail and on to the cabin. Like most remote cabins of the era, it is squat, the roof long gone, only a few rafters. Cottonwood logs make up the structure, those on the north side still have bark on them. The logs are spaced wide apart, chinked with smaller limbs and probably mud now gone. The door is framed in hand hewn boards, the logs spiked into the frame. A fireplace of local stone dominates the east wall. An old bucket hangs from a remaining rafter swinging gently in the day's breeze. The cabin was likely built by Mark Walker, a sometimes carpenter sometimes cowboy who lived in Moab for a time, used as a line shack for ranchers whose cattle foraged the fertile river delta. Tough place to be a cow.

The sun was getting low and camp beckoned. Retraced the trail noting there was a small use trail that ran down to a sandbar on the river. Another time maybe.
All you have is your fire...
And the place you need to reach
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